Six Elementals Author Interviews will introduce prospective readers to some of the best writers in their genre you may, or may not, have heard of, via a series of six questions. I encourage you to check out the work of these phenomenal creatives! Links to their websites and purchase links will always appear, accompanying the interview. Check them out!
This is a distinct pleasure, in that I have the award-winning epic fantasy author joining me: the amazing Marian L Thorpe. Marian has published novels, short stories, poetry and more. Her currently published works include: Oraiáphon, Empire’s Daughter, Empire’s Hostage, Empire’s Exile, Empire’s Reckoning, Empire’s Heir, Empress and Soldier, Spinnings: Brief Fantasies in Prose and Verse.
P.L.: So honoured to be able to interview you Marian.! You are one of the experienced and savvy writers that I very much look up to in the writing community! Thanks again for joining Six Elementals Interviews! I’m also a big fan of your writing, after reading Oraiáphon! It was an outstanding book!
Here are just some of the awards and accolades you’ve achieved in your distinguished writing career so far: Queer Indie Awards, 2022: Queer Fiction/Non-Fiction: Bronze for body of work; Book Bloggers Novel of the Year Award, Semi-Finalist, 2021, for Empire’s Daughter, Eric Hoffer Awards: Finalist, 2021, for Empire’s Daughter; Finalist 2022, for Empire’s Heir; B.R.A.G. Medallion, 2021, for Empire’s Daughter, and I could go on.
Besides all that I’ve mentioned, I believe that most would say, by any metrics of nominal success that most self-published authors achieve, you have been highly successful. How have you dealt with the pressures of success, and how do you feel about all you have achieved so far?
Marian: As far as how I feel, gobsmacked is the best description. It still seems unreal sometimes.
I don’t think ‘success’ per se has created pressure; it’s measuring that ‘success’ against others that can be the trap. But if I may use an excerpt from a blog post I wrote last year:
“I consider myself a successful writer, but the actual profit from my books isn’t a major part of my yearly income.
- ‘your books got me back into reading’
- ‘your books are my go-to when I need to escape this world for a while’
- ‘I dread the day when you stop writing this series’
- ‘I’m waiting for your new release more than any other book in 2022’
and many other similar expressions of what some people find in my books is my measure of success. If your stories resonate with a few readers; if they bring smiles to their faces or make them ask themselves hard questions; if they read until 3 a.m. because they can’t put them down, or leave the light on to sleep because you terrified them – isn’t that success?”
I try to give back to other writers, whenever/however I can, both within my real life and virtual communities. It’s my ‘thank you’ to the universe for giving me the success I have, and the absolute joy writing brings me.
P.L.: I would say, by any definition, you are a very successful writer. Of all your novels, do you have a personal favourite, and why?
Marian: Up until this year, I’d have said it was Empire’s Reckoning, my fifth title. I have a very soft spot for the protagonist in it – the musician Sorley, who is also the protagonist of Oraiáphon. But after writing Empress & Soldier, I have to say it might trump Reckoning. Not only is Druisius, one of its two protagonists, an intriguing character, but writing his story – in first person present – was a huge challenge. Because Druisius is not highly self-aware; he rejects emotion, largely, and focuses on following orders and his pleasures, and what he does in the shadows, both professionally and personally, may make him dislikeable to some readers. Contrasting that with the educated, self-aware but more conventional character Eudekia, who is the other narrator, and bringing their stories not just together, but hinting at a reversal of personal arcs – a softening in Druisius, and a hardening in Eudekia – stretched every skill I have as a writer. Did it work? I’ll leave that to the readers. But a book that demanded so much of me has to be my favourite, because it tested but didn’t defeat me.
P.L.: That’s very inspirational. A demanding book that’s your favourite because it tested you, and you triumphed! How would you classify your work? Is it historical fantasy, or something else?
Marian: I call it historical fiction of another world. Whether it’s fantasy or not depends on whether you think fantasy must have magic of some sort – it doesn’t, so in some minds, it’s not fantasy. It misses being alternative history because there is no jumping off point from real history. Speculative fiction works, but that’s a huge, loosely defined category. And within my world, the books aren’t all the same genre either: the first three are a version of a heroine’s journey and a coming-of age story; Oraiáphon and Reckoning are a slice-of-life love story with some political elements; Heir is something of a political thriller, and Empress & Soldier is the closest I may ever write to literary fiction. I’d rather just call it all fiction, but that doesn’t help a lot with a sales environment that demands categorization into genres. So I will call it historical fantasy, and alternative history, for the sake of categorization, but I don’t really think it’s either.
P.L.: Whatever you call it, it’s awesome storytelling. Besides publishing your own work, you are also involved with Scarlet Ferret, a curated online bookshop, selling independent Special Edition ebooks with extras, in DRM-free formats for all your favourite reading devices, including Kindle. Can you tell us a bit about Scarlet Ferret please?
Marian: I stumbled across Scarlet Ferret in a Facebook site for historical fiction writers (I hang around in these places because the research I do has more in common with historical fiction than any other genre) and decided I liked what I saw. Kevin Beynon, the proprietor, reads every book he chooses to be included in the on-line bookshop, and only includes the ones that meet his standards. So I submitted my books, he read them, and invited me to become part of Scarlet Ferret. The books are priced higher than the major on-line sites, but each one comes with extras available nowhere else: a prequel novella, music, several poems, some short stories, in my case. I liked the concept, an independent bookstore for independent authors: it fits my worldview of supporting small and local whenever possible. Will I ever be brave enough to make my books only available there? Maybe. We’ll see.
P.L.: That’s amazing! Can you tell us a bit please, if possible, about what projects you are currently working on?
Marian: Several! The major one is Empire’s Passing, the eighth and last book of the Empire series, set about a decade after the end of Empire’s Heir. I can’t say too much about it, except that it has two narrators again, one being Lena, the narrator of the first three books, and the other her daughter Gwenna.
The second one is a conceit. In Empire’s Heir, Sorley, the bard, hears a tale new to him, and decides to set it to verse and music. If you have the reference points, it’s clear that the tale is Beowulf. No one knows who wrote Beowulf, so I decided it might as well be Sorley – or at least he writes an equivalent poem. (There are a lot of these parallels in my books; Marcus Aurelius’s Meditations becomes Catilius’s Contemplations; in one short story, I gave my character Cillian the authorship of Pangur Ban, a 9th century Irish poem.) So, in a moment of madness, I decided to write an adaptation of part of Beowulf as Sorley might have written it. I’m using two of the major translations of Beowulf – Seamus Heaney’s and JRR Tolkien’s – as the source material. To the delight, I should add, of my high school English teacher, who introduced me to Beowulf, the structure of Old English verse, and the concept of a kenning—a descriptive phrase that stands in for a noun, like ‘swan-road’ for sea—almost 50 years ago. I’ve promised him a copy when it’s done.
Other than that, I write a monthly short story for the newsletter/website A Muse Bouche – we’re given a theme each month, and have to write or excerpt something that fits it. And I’m trying, slowly, to get back to more creative non-fiction, writing about nature, but it keeps getting pushed to the back burner by the fiction. Which probably should tell me something!
P.L.: Sounds like you have lots of exciting things on the go! As a seasoned writer, do you have any advice for those authors breaking into the field today?
Marian: One of the downsides of the ease of self-publishing is that writers think the first thing they write is worthy of publication. I believe you need to learn to write just like you learn any other skill: like a top athlete, innate skill isn’t quite enough. I have three ‘apprenticeship novels’ that will never see the light of day, but I learned a lot writing them. Even with my published novels, they would not be what they are without the help of critique partners and editors. I understand that’s a daunting prospect for many writers: they’re often writing in isolation, and/or can’t afford an editor (and have little idea how to find a good one.)
Secondly, write for the love of it. The chances of making an actual living at it are very low. Not impossible, but very low, and lower, perhaps, every year. In the blog post I referenced earlier, I talk about my writing colleagues who have won or been shortlisted for major awards – and they all have other jobs. Perspective is needed.
My last piece of advice is to ignore 99.9% of the advice given on Twitter. One person’s style is not another’s, and we do not want to all sound the same, or we might as well let the AI write the books.
P.L: Marian, I have truly enjoyed our chat and I really appreciate you joining me on Six Elementals Interviews! Thank you so much!
Buy Marian’s Books:
Scarlet Ferret: (my preferred ebook store): https://scarletferret.com/books/empires-legacy-season-pass
Otherwise: https://books2read.com/marianlthorpe (Empress & Soldier is exclusive to Amazon/KU until mid March, and then will be on Scarlet Ferret and all other platforms.)